How shall we balance the needs of the many vs the needs of the few, legally speaking?
Twenty years ago this week, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted into law. The ADA changed the physical and legal landscape for all kinds of people who had difficulties with everyday tasks. Besides discrimination being made illegal, accommodations were required to make public buildings equally accessible to the disabled.
“By age 24, [Jim Langevin (D-RI)] was in the Rhode Island Legislature. Later, when he came to the U.S. Capitol, it was a maze of steps and narrow hallways. Today, as he makes his way to his congressional office, he maneuvers his wheelchair down ramps and curb cuts and through automatic doors, all of which exist because of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Source
“Now, the ADA’s impact is everywhere: wheelchair lifts on city buses, signs in Braille, sign-language interpreters. Many young disabled people are growing up with a marvelous sense of belonging, entitlement and pride I never had.” Source
However, this accommodation may be especially hard on small businesses. In his book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, eco-friendly farmer Joel Salatin talks about wishing he were able to open a small retail outlet on his farm in order to sell his wares (and those of neighbors) to the public. However,
”...As soon as we sell the neighbor’s cucumbers or homemade salsa, or pickles, or whatever, we must have a business license. That requires… (among other things) ...Handicapped parking and access. Designated areas and up-to-code everything – handrails and the works. Nobody enjoys seeing handicapped folks gain mobility more than I do, but this is my farm and my business. ...If I want to serve an exclusive clientele, what business is it of the government’s to define who I can and can’t serve and what kind of facility I want to do it in?”
Does the ADA stifle small business with its regulations and rules that help only a minority, or do the needs of disabled people to get around and be employed merit governmental intervention? And to take the question to a larger scale, ought the government to rule for the benefit of the citizens, or the benefit of business? If the answer is “for both,” where do you draw the line?